Processed and packaged foods, while they may be convenient, are not always the most nutritious option when it comes to choosing what to eat. They’re often loaded with preservatives and added sugar. Now, new research shows that a diet high in added sugars may not only promote weight gain, but could actually lead to heart disease.
A recent study from Emory University examined blood lipid levels and the amount added sugar in the diets of 6,000 adults in the US. They found that the more calories consumed from added sugars, the lower high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C, or “good cholesterol”) levels, higher triglyceride levels, and higher low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C, or “bad cholesterol”) levels were found. This combination of factors is a blood lipid profile associated with elevated cardiovascular disease risk, similar to that found in people consuming high amounts of processed carbohydrates. The greatest risk profile for heart disease came from study participants with the highest added sugar consumption, whose intake clocked in at nearly 46 tablespoons per day; the lowest risk profile was associated with those consuming 7 teaspoons of added sugars per day or fewer. These sugar intake levels did not include the natural sugars found in fruits or fruit juice.
Over the years, Americans’ sugar increase has increased steadily, primarily due to the prevalence of processed foods and sweetened beverages on the market. Since there is no requirement for manufacturers to differentiate between added and natural sugars on food labels, the only way to spot added sugars is by studying the long list of ingredients for any of the dozens of ingredients considered added sugars.
The average person in this study consumed 15 percent of their daily calories from added sugars — that’s 21 teaspoons per day. (The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 9 teaspoons per day of added sugar for men and 6 teaspoons per day for women.) To spot added sugar at a glance, look for ingredients like fructose, sucrose, evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, molasses, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, dextrose, or honey on the label, and be sure to check the amount of total sugar in a product. A handy rule of thumb is that every 4g of sugar equals one teaspoon. These ingredients are sneaky, and can be found in everything from flavored yogurt,”healthy” cereals and flavored soymilk to energy bars, jarred tomato sauce and whole wheat breads! Of course, your best bet is to steer clear — or at least moderate — your consumption of any sweetened, packaged foods.